On Friday September 7th 2012 a new chapter in my life started: my formation as a member of the Society of Jesus. Specifically, I became a Jesuit novice in the inter-provincial novitiate in Birmingham. I have been here for three weeks (or so) since that first day. I would like to share with all of you my experience so far.
My welcoming was brief and gentle, since I had already met most of the community last November. In a way, I was arriving home. After a peaceful first evening, the Jesuit pace of live emerged. Saturday 8th September (the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary) is the traditional day for Jesuit novices to make their first vows. This translated into a lot of preparatory work on the day. It was great! From dish-washing to getting spare stoles, from arranging tables to handing out orders of service, it was a truly Jesuitical experience. I was particularly grateful to meet other Jesuits from Britain and abroad. By the end of Saturday, I was wondering about my own first vows. With God’s grace, that time will come.
After those first busy 48 hours, the “first probation” started. This period is an introduction to Jesuit life through three components: integration to the community, the study of the basic Jesuit texts (including the autobiography of Saint Ignatius) and the introduction to Jesuit ways of prayer (like imaginative contemplation). This time involved learning through conferences (Jesuit jargon for seminars), spirituality workshops, and day-to-day experiential living in common. It is the last of these that I particularly felt called me to Jesuit life. There was something in the life of every member of the community that resounded in my heart. And that harmonious resonance brings me every day closer to the Jesuit ideal: to find God in all things.
First probation finished with a Triduum, which is a three-day individually-guided retreat (IGR). After all the information received from day one, this was a time to digest it. The Triduum gave me time to reflect on my life, Ignatian spirituality, and my vocational call to the Society of Jesus. From this time, I would like to share a line of a biography of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He is one of my favourite Jesuit saints-to-be since he came from a scientific background like me. As many of the greatest saints did, Teilhard de Chardin went through a vocational crisis. He wasn’t sure if his vocation was compatible with his commitment of science. And as often happens, God surprised him through the words of his spiritual director: “The crucified Lord is awaiting the natural expansion of his being”. This phrase echoes in my own vocation story. Back in the days, I would have had similar concerns to those of Teilhard de Chardin. And I find consolation and a missionary call in these words. In this day and age (more than ever) the church needs people committed to re-establishing the harmony between faith and reason. And following the example of Teilhard de Chardin and many other Jesuit scientists, I am called to be one of those people. I know that this is an ambitious ideal, but as Jesuits we are seek the magis (“the more”).
So… the Triduum was a truly blessed time. After it, I felt reaffirmed in my vocation to the Society of Jesus and in the commitment to use my scientific background to serve God. Mostly importantly, it showed me that putting all my trust in God is bearing fruit in my life. The Triduum finished with a Mass in which I was formally received as a member of the Jesuit community in Birmingham. Also, I received a IHS pin (the Christogram and symbol of the Society), a copy of the documents of the General Congregations 31 to 35, and a very nice Jesuit tie!
So far, my experience in the novitiate can be summarised in one word: love. First of all, since the moment I arrive until now I have felt the fraternal love (philia – φιλία) of the community. Also, I also felt the paternal love (storge – στοργή) of my superiors when correcting me. In all this, I feel Jesus loving me unconditionally (agape – αγάπη) in his sacramental forms and in the faces of my Jesuit brothers.
Finally, after three weeks or so I could say that I am truly happy. I genuinely feel called to go to the frontiers of the world. In that respect, I summarise this desire in the words that Ignatius of Loyola said to Francis Xavier before he sent him to the Far East: “Ite inflammate omnia” (Go, set the world alight). God is calling me to following him in the footsteps of Ignatius, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Edmund Champion, and many others. Thus, my answer is a simple one: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. (1 Samuel 3:9)
PS: A special thanks for Fr. Paul Nicholson SJ for proofreading and Dr. Richie Rego SJ for the first picture.